Progressive belowground soil development associated with sustainable plant establishment during copper mine waste revegetation

Lia Q.R. Ossanna, Karen Serrano, Lydia L. Jennings, Jesse Dillon, Raina M. Maier, Julia W. Neilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Critical to the environmental sustainability of hard rock mining is the reclamation of disturbed lands following mine closure through revegetation. Improved understanding of associations between above- and belowground processes that characterize successful plant establishment is critical to the implementation of more efficient revegetation strategies for nutrient-poor mine waste materials. The specific objective of this five-year temporal study was to identify progressive biotic and abiotic indicators of primary soil development on mine waste rock (WR) on a slope hydroseeded with native plant species, and to quantify comparative effects of plant lifeform on soil development. Aboveground plant diversity and belowground substrate properties were measured annually at 67 m intervals along transects following the slope contour. Seeded WR was compared to unseeded WR and the adjacent native ecosystem. A temporal increase in WR microbial biomass was observed in seeded WR relative to unseeded areas. Microbial community analysis found the unseeded WR to be defined by oligotrophic microbes, whereas targeted grass and shrub root zone samples demonstrated significant increases in specific cellulose and lignin degrading and N-cycling phylotypes. More extensive chemical and biological fertility development was observed in shrub root zones relative to grass. Ten chemical and biological indicators increased significantly in shrub WR relative to unseeded WR, whereas grass WR was only enriched in bacterial 16S rRNA gene copy number/g substrate and bacterial/archaeal and fungal diversity. In addition, the shrub root zone had significantly higher nitrogen-cycling potential than grass root zones or unseeded WR. Thus, both grasses and shrubs improve belowground WR development; however, shrub establishment had greater fertility outcomes. Concurrent belowground fertility development is critical to sustainable plant establishment. Coupled evaluation of above- and belowground metrics provides an improved quantitative assessment of revegetation progress and a valuable tool to guide management decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104813
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Ecosystem regeneration
  • Microbial soil development
  • Mine reclamation
  • Semiarid
  • Soil health/quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Soil Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Progressive belowground soil development associated with sustainable plant establishment during copper mine waste revegetation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this